"From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity." – Edvard Munch
There are two things that I can’t handle: rejection and acceptance. When I’ve been rejected, I alternate between anger and depression. When I felt accepted, I felt giddy and acted oddly, driving others away. I have reached age 40 and I have never been in a relationship with a woman. Now I’ve been alone for so long, it seems like loneliness is normal and the hurt is a part of my routine, like someone living with a terrible disease. It’s my crutch, my cross. I can’t even make a casual friend of a female co-worker. Women do like me, not all of them but some. I usually ignore them or realize too late that they were attracted to me. Meeting a woman seems like an impossibility. Everyone is married or attached somehow. Online dating hasn’t gotten me anywhere. No one wants a 40-year-old man. I don’t know where single ladies gather, but it’s probably too far away and I’d look like a fool anyway, unable to speak to a stranger. I’d give anything for a new friend, but it won’t happen. – N.W., Las Vegas
OK. So, no one has ever quoted Edvard Munch to me in a column before. This alone was quite the surprise in my mailbox. I tip my hat to you.
Munch was a painter whose almost sole fame is a painting called "The Scream." The painting is nearly as famous in the human imagination as the "Mona Lisa." It is said to depict the universal predicament of modern human beings and their relentless emotional anxiety.
In the wake of the painting’s recent purchase for almost $120 million, New York Times writer Karen Rosenberg said: "Once just the Symbolist shriek of a single, mentally ill artist at the dawn of the 20th century, it’s become a projection screen for our own fin-de-siecle anxieties, psychic, environmental, political and, yes, economic. Munch’s skeletal alter ego, cowering beneath a blazing sunset, has been given a clinical diagnosis of ‘depersonalization disorder.’ "
You know a painting is archetypal for human beings when a psychologized culture starts psychoanalyzing it, then gives the painting a DSM diagnosis. Wow.
Now, you’re the one quoting him, so it won’t surprise me if you already know this, but did you know what Munch said about "The Scream"?
"For several years I was almost mad. You know my picture, ‘The Scream’? I was stretched to the limit. Nature was screaming in my blood. After that, I gave up hope ever of being able to love again."
I quote it because the last line reminds me of you. Of the letter you wrote to me. But you distinguish yourself from Munch, too. Munch says that he gave up hope of ever being able to love again. Again! You say that you have never been in a relationship with a woman, period! No wonder your soul is screaming.
Pay attention to the way you talk to me in painful dichotomies. Pain and depression. Rejection and acceptance. A crutch and a cross. Language like this cries out to me of a human soul longing for integration and wholeness. A man incessantly torn in half.
I want you to go online and read everything you can find about social anxiety disorders. Then I want you to research attachment theory and attachment disorder. Then, just to be thorough, I want you to research avoidant personality disorder, its suspected genesis and treatment prognosis.
And it can’t surprise you that I’m going to wonder if you’ve ever attacked this crippling stuckness and palpable despair with the aid of a talented therapist. Because it’s not true that everyone is married or attached. And it’s not true that no one wants a 40-year-old man. There is, right now, an unprecedented glut of 40- to 65-year-olds, longing to meet a potential life partner and friend. What’s more likely is that you have spent your life "walled off" from the human communion you desire so deeply. There are reasons for this. And there are solutions.
I would tell Munch and I would tell you quoting Munch what my therapist once told me: "Get off the cross; we need the wood!" Meaning, enough with the existential retching. Yep, we’re worm food, the lot of us. Depending on where we’re buried – if we’re buried – maybe we’ll grow ragweed instead of flowers.
But while we’re here, the mandate is to grow love.
You reached out to me, N.W. You decided not to be alone. Now reach out to someone who can help you.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or email@example.com.